The figure represents an increase of 330,000 tons over the 4.68 million tons the North claimed last year. The original estimate was about 4 million tons.
North Korea's rice harvest increased this year thanks to little harm from floods and droughts, according to North Korea sources. Corn output was poor due to cold-weather damage in the border region with China and Kangwon Province. "Kim Jong-il appears to have carried out the shock currency reform out of confidence that the food situation next year won't be worse than expected," speculated a source.
If it is not in urgent need of food aid, the North can afford to be tougher in its dealings with the South and the U.S. for the time being. But there is a chance that the North exaggerated the food output in a bid to demonstrate the success of a "150-day struggle" and a "100-day struggle" where people were swept off urban streets and forced into labor on the collective farms.
With 5.01 million tons of staples, the North would face little problem in feeding its population of 24 million for a year. Its late leader Kim Il-sung once said, "Daily food consumption is about 10,000 tons. If we had 5 million tons of grains a year, we would be able not only to dole out food rations but feed the people with sugar and candy."
But the food shortage in the North arises not only from a chronic quantitative shortfall but also from uneven distribution and supply. The authorities place priority in food supply on the party and the military. The burgeoning merchant class can also manage. But the old, the weak and the urban poor, estimated at 10 to 20 percent of the population, are marginalized. "Organizations aiding North Korea also need to improve monitoring of distribution," said a South Korean government official.
Meanwhile, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said the grain output North Korea informed it of in mid-November was 3.53 million tons. A source said this was because potatoes and beans, which are included in ordinary grain yield estimates, were omitted. "The aim may be to get the maximum possible food aid from the international community," the source speculated.